Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.
In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. Historically a tolerant faith, Islam has, since the early 20th century, witnessed the rise of militant, extremist sects. This development poses existential threats to these minority faiths. And as more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of greater freedoms and job prospects, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.
©2014 Gerard Russell (P)2015 Tantor
"A fascinating and gracefully written study of minority religions, recommended for its appreciation of cultural richness and variety." (Library Journal)
This is simply the best book I have listened to on audible for quite awhile.
The author, Gerard Russell, is a former British diplomat who speaks both Arabic and Farsi and has traveled extensively in the Middle East. I wish there were more people like him guiding our foreign policy (in the US) today. His knowledge is extensive yet very practical at the same time. This is not a tough listen by any means.
Russell chronicles the Yazidis (Iraq), Druze (Lebanon, Syria), Coptic Christians (Egypt), Zoroastrians (Iran, India), Samaritans (Israel), and Kalasha (Pakistan) among others.
Previously, I had known only a little about the modern Druze, some idea of what Zoroastrians in the ancient world were like (being that it was the state religion of Persia), and very shallow knowledge of the Copts in Egyptian history. This book fleshed out what I already knew and added much to my knowledge base. I had no idea ancient Manichaeism was alive in the world today at all. I never would have guessed the Druze had Pythagorean influences. The struggle of these peoples to survive in the modern world, especially after the insanity of the Iraq War and the rise of ISIS, touched me greatly. They are the living past.
This book is fascinating and I would suggest it to anyone interested in history or expanding what you know about the Middle East.
The WSJ of 8/28/15 featured an article calling on Islam to be more tolerant. The comments were almost all "What? Impossible!" I might have been the lone dissenter, using the information in this book to strengthen my argument. Both Christianity and Islam should be ashamed of their behavior in specific instances and in specific places. I am a Christian who is repelled by ISIS, but fairness shows that Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on tolerance. We have transformed the world more by persuasion than by force, but we also have had our periods of dark intolerance, which I pray will not return again.
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